Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, which is ranked the second best cancer center in the nation by U.S. News and World Report, has just achieved another impressive distinction--it has banned commercial funding of CME throughout the institution. In a fascinating article, Dave Kovaleski of Medical Meetings Magazine describes a process that began in July 2006, when the hospital's physician in chief, Robert Wittes, MD, decided to take this bold action in order to keep medical education "purely educational."
This is an instructive case study of how a large institution can wean itself off industry CME support and end up with a stronger educational program. Thomas Fahey, M.D, who chairs the CME committee, has overseen the transition and says that "I don't think there's any evidence to show that the extra money made CME better." In fact, Fahey feels that the new environment "keeps the focus where it should be--on education--and that comes across to participants."
The hospital had received 25% of its CME budget from industry, and in order to make up the shortfall they "de-fancified" their programs. For example, they shifted conferences from hotels to hospital conference rooms, they stopped paying for physicians' lunches, and they recruited more internal faculty members to speak. Apparently, it is still possible to convince physicians to educate their colleagues without the incentive of a fat check. They also increased the fees physicians must pay for some courses by 10-20%.
And what has been the response? Are physicians boycotting these meetings because they are too cheap to pay for their own education, as many defenders of commercial CME warn is inevitable? No. Attendance has remained steady and there have been no complaints.
Obviously, Sloan-Kettering is a particularly well-funded institution, and it can draw on stellar faculty to give CME, both of which make its industry-free transition smoother than it will be for other hospitals. Nonetheless, it provides a encouraging example of what is possible when the leadership decides that it's time do the right thing.